Ridding the world of sexual violence

Published 4:18 pm Friday, April 13, 2018

Ampersand Sexual Violence Resource Center supports individuals, works to engage community

By Brittany Fuller

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Ampersand Sexual Violence Resource Center, formerly known as the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center, has one goal: to create a world free of sexual violence.

The team at Ampersand aims to accomplish this goal by supporting individuals and engaging communities in the center’s 17-county service area. Offering a wide range of services to all different types of people, the center hopes its new name will help all those affected by sexual violence in any stage they are going through to feel comfortable about reaching out for support.

“Our services range from a 24/7 support line that is staffed by local volunteers, 24/7 medical advocacy, crisis counseling and long-term therapy, group therapy (such as our yoga or equine group), legal and personal advocacy, professional and community-based training and prevention education,” Natalie O’Hara, Ampersand’s regional coordinator for Jessamine County, said. “We offer these services free-of-charge to anyone who is impacted by sexual violence.” Sexual violence can include online sexual harassment, stalking, sexual assault, rape, sexual abuse as well as other forms of sexual violence.

“Not only do we offer these services to the primary survivors of violence, but we can also offer the services to family, friends, and other people who are connected to a survivor,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara said Ampersand’s mission is to ensure survivors have a wraparound of support from the center, their friends and family and their community.

In order to free communities from sexual violence, O’Hara said the center strives to first offer services to those who have been affected by it. In order to do that, the center recently expanded its Green Dot Bystander Intervention Program to new high schools and is working to expand its program into middle schools.

“In order to move past sexual violence, we have to first heal the wounds created by it,” O’Hara said. “From there, we hope to eradicate sexual violence by educating youth, as well as community members, about the issue and offering prevention education. We believe by educating a new generation about sexual and interpersonal violence and teaching them safe ways to intervene when they see concerning situations, we can start the process of eradicating sexual violence.”

O’Hara said through her work in Jessamine County she is able to offer in-person crisis counseling services and can refer individuals to therapy if they would like to continue their mental health care.

“Another service I facilitate is personal advocacy,” O’Hara said. “As we know, sexual violence can affect a person’s day-to-day life in multiple ways. Personal advocacy can include communicating with an individual’s work or school to ensure they are getting the support they need for continued success, helping connect the survivor to any resources they may need such as housing, food, or shelter, as well as other types of resources they may need.”

O’Hara said sexual violence can affect each individual in unique ways. She strives to offer a multitude of services through Ampersand that can be tailored to each person’s needs.

O’Hara also participates in community events and helps to coordinate efforts with members of the community who wish to be engaged.

“It is incredibly important to discuss sexual violence in our communities because, without these conversations, survivors may feel like they have to stay silent,” O’Hara said. “By opening up the doors of conversation, we can start to reduce the stigma around sexual violence and let survivors in our community know we are here to listen to and support them in any way they need. Sexual violence is perpetuated by a culture of silence and shame. As a result, people often feel alone in their experience. Guilt and shame often keep survivors silent. We cannot solve a problem if we cannot talk about it. So, our hope is that the presence of Ampersand in our communities helps us to keep the issue at the forefront of people’s minds.”

O’Hara said there are many ways individuals can become involved to put an end to sexual violence. Simply having a conversation with a neighbor or friend can raise awareness.

“If you’re inspired to support survivors of sexual violence and aren’t sure how to get involved, or if you have an idea of a project you want to accomplish in your community that involves sexual violence, you can always reach out to Ampersand staff to discuss these opportunities,” O’Hara said. “We need a large number of diverse individuals to get involved in their own unique ways in order to create big change and end sexual violence in our community.”

For more information, call 253-2511 or email nohara@ampersandky.org.